History and Post-Pandemic Experiences: Avoiding The Pitfalls (1)

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While it is reasonable to call experience the best teacher, it is, also, expedient to know that, it is capable of teaching life lessons, in a very hard way.

Sometimes, it is wiser to learn, from its brother; history. It is, no doubt, true to agree with the common saying; ‘those who fail to learn from history, usually, repeat mistakes’.

The whole world is, still grappling, with the outbreak of a COVID-19 pandemic.

What has history got to teach us;  and how do we learn, from the rich and hard experiences of pandemics, in history, to avoid the pitfalls and turn the table of present events around, to the greater advantage of humanity?

In this first part, of a two-part series, please, sit back and enjoy the ride,  on a similar pandemic, back in history and the lessons we can learn from it, to better handle the current coronavirus pandemic.

1918 Influenza pandemic
Causes and Origin

It was a disease, caused by a virus, known as the H1N1 influenza A virus.

It began in the spring of 1918, observed first, in Europe, America and some parts of Asia, before spreading across the world.

Its origin was not, really, known and it is, still disputed, till date. Its occurrence was at the time of World War 1.

Though there were cases of infections, in major countries that were participants, in the war.

The need to keep military morale high, resulted in the forfeiting of press freedom, so that, reports of war casualties, got kept from the media and the people, alongside the news of the infection.

Spain, a neutral country in the war, had no need, to suppress reports, so, cases of infections, death tolls and news on the pandemic, went to the press.

This news was more popular, making the country appear to be the worst hit, so, much that, the world named the disease, the “Spanish flu”.

Transmission, Symptoms, Infections and Casualties in Numbers

In the beginning, the disease got transmitted, through contact, with droplets, from coughing, or sneezing by infected persons.

Symptoms were mild, for the first wave of the infection. Patients experienced chills, fever and fatigue.

Most people recovered, after a few days, with low mortality rate. The most vulnerable were the very young, pregnant women, aged and people, suffering from diseases that has compromised their immune systems.

These are symptoms, similar to the COVID-19 symptoms that we have now.

The virus, however, soon mutated into a very deadly strand, with a second wave of infections, bringing about more casualties.

Symptoms of the mutated strand of the virus, made the skin of infected victims, to turn pale blue and lungs filled, with fluid, causing breathing difficulties and eventual death.

Victims died, within hours, or days of infection, so much that, in about a year, (1918 to 1919), about 500 million persons had been infected.

The death toll, ranged from 20 million to 50 million, with subsequent reports suggesting death toll, could be, as much as, 100 million.

Factors Responsible for High Mortality Rate

Here, it is pertinent to take a cursory look, into some key factors, responsible for the high mortality rate, of the 1918 influenza and see how we can, possibly, avoid such pitfalls, as we battle the current COVID-19, today.

Novelty of the Virus

The world had not known much about viruses, though, a few discoveries had been made, before 1918.

It was not, until 1928 that, a lot became known, about viruses, hence, medical personnel, did not know what they were dealing with.

No vaccine was available, neither was there a pre-existing knowledge, on how to develop one, to fight the pandemic at that time.

The symptoms were unusual, sometimes, similar to other diseases and ailments, like we have with COVID-19, thus, resulting in wrong diagnosis and mis-administration of drugs.

Wrong Prioritizing of War Over the People’s Welfare

Winning the war, was more crucial to the leaders of the warring countries, that they paid little attention, to the pandemic at first, until it, eventually, got out of hand.

Likewise, particular attention, were not paid to infected persons, for proper isolation at the early stages, hence, the soldiers transmitted the disease among themselves, rapidly.

Consequently, it was said that, more American soldiers died of the pandemic, than the war itself!

Lies of Diplomacy

To stop the people from panicking, the government in some countries were diplomatic about relaying the reality of the impending lethal infection.

Words like “It’s not a big deal”, ” It’s a foreign disease”, were used to allay the fears of the people.

However, in doing so, they distorted the realities of risks and a need, to see a major threat, demanding very stringent measures.

(To be concluded)

Featured Image: unco.edu

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